When “failure” is really a success…

I sometimes think that society’s definition of success is too limited. In my own life, I sometimes do not succeed in my goals, but if I set the goal high (perhaps too high) and I try anyway, I can generally sleep at night, content in the knowledge that I tried my best. Cliché, I know…but very true.

I have taught advanced placement classes for 18 years. For those of you who don’t know, students who take AP classes take a test in May, and—if they pass it—they get some form of college credit. Almost every year, my goal for my students passing the advanced placement test is for 100% of them to pass the test. (For some context, you should know this: the national pass-rate average is roughly 60%).

My students have gotten a 100% pass rate only three times. I don’t count the other 15 years as failures, though. In fact, three years ago, with a pass rate of only 90%, I knew it was my most successful year as an AP teacher, because of the number of students who got a “5” on the test (which is the highest a student can earn).

This year, I have, once again, aimed for 100% pass rate for my students. I don’t think it will happen, though. In fact, I might be looking at my first year of a pass rate in the mid 80’s.

It’s already been a successful year, though, and here’s why: I have more regular track kids than I’ve had before. Some of these kids have never taken an honors or AP class in their lives and didn’t think they could do it, didn’t think they could be successful in an AP class.

They’ve proved themselves wrong…and proved me right, I might add. I always tell kids, “If you’re willing to work hard, you will thrive in my class, even though it’s an AP class.”

Well, they’ve worked hard. They written more essays than they ever thought they could or would and read more books than they probably wanted to read.

They’ve learned and grown and passed a challenging class.

They’ve succeeded.

However, they may or may not pass the AP test. It’s a really tough test, as evidenced by the 60% national pass rate and 57% Arizona pass rate.

I count them as successful, though. I think that most of them see that, but during these last few days of school, I will make sure that they see the success. I honor the fact that they challenged themselves at a time in their lives (senior year of high school!!) when many of their peers were looking for the easy way out. I honor that they brought a new perspective and voice to a class of students that has been unofficially tracked together for four years.

I honor that they were willing to risk what society might consider as “failure” in order to stretch themselves.

But here’s the thing…failure might be OK some of the time. Success is entirely over-rated. Sometimes the best thing a person can do is put himself in a situation where he knows his chances of succeeding are lower than his chances of failing. Sometimes the road to failure is more valuable than the road to success.


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